Experience More Joy with A Little more Silence at Mass
"Take some time and struggle with the silence.” I remember one of the first times I went to adoration these words being spoken to me by the leader of the retreat. Struggle with silence I thought? That’s ridiculous. How would silence be a struggle?
But then the silence began in the presence of the Lord, and I soon saw how much of a struggle it was to be in the silence. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes like hours. The 45 minutes of silent adoration felt as if it was the longest time I had ever continuously done anything in my life. Silence certainly was a struggle. I didn’t understand why.
Now I do. It’s because silence is hard and we are not accustomed to silence in our world. Pascal once said that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” What does that mean? Why do we need to be able to sit quietly in a room alone?
It’s because silence is needed for contemplation. And contemplation is necessary for us to grow in our relationship with God. God speaks to us in the silence and we need to get beyond our uncomfortableness with silence to begin to hear that whisper of God that moves in the silence. But let me digress for a second.
Silence is not just the absence of sound. There is a lot of noise in our world that doesn’t make a sound. I actually don’t remember what my cell phone ringtone is because I have it perpetually set to silent. But that doesn’t mean that my phone doesn’t make a lot of noise in my life. I feel the phone when it rings, and I even feel it ring when it actually doesn’t ring. I’m constantly checking social media and news sites. And this noise without sound extends beyond my phone. When I’m working at my computer I have some kind of noise on in the background. And I use an Echo for various things including as an alarm clock. Which means that the first ‘person’ I speak to in the morning and the last ‘person’ I speak to at night is a machine that makes noise on command. Noise is everywhere in my world, even if it doesn’t make a sound.
Silence includes the absence even of soundless noise. And most of us aren’t used to it and so it becomes uncomfortable for us to be in true silence. And silence is necessary. Necessary and hard.
So how do we accomplish it in our lives? One way should be in the liturgy. During the Mass, firstly our phones should be off. I challenge you to turn your phone actually off, not just to silent. Don’t give it a chance to alert you to things without a sound. Turn it off. It’s a start and begins to set the stage to enter into silence.
There are times within the liturgy that silence should be observed. I am not saying that it is always this way, rather that it should be. But sometimes poorly formed liturgists don’t recognize that it is ok to be uncomfortable with silence and that it is important to be in the silence and so they try to make sure that silence is kept to a bare minimum. Choirs or musicians are instructed to begin the next hymn immediately without giving a moment for silence. The priest may not give any time for silence after communion. Silence is not allowed. This is simply wrong. Silence is necessary.
Pope Francis himself has talked about the need for silence, especially at the beginning of Mass as we prepare ourselves. He said “silence is so important. Remember what I told you last time: we are not going to a show. Silence prepares us and accompanies us.”
Cardinal Sarah, from Africa, has this to say about silence- “when we retreat from the noise of the world in silence, we gain a new perspective on the world. To retreat into silence is to come to know ourselves, to know our dignity.” Cardinal Sarah went on to say that the liturgy is a time for us to come and be in silence together.
The takeaway from this has to be this- we need silence in our lives, and we especially need silence in the liturgy. So, this brings up the question of how. How do we do two things namely- give time for silence in our lives and also give time for silence in the liturgy, especially if our local parish doesn’t really incorporate silence into the liturgy?
First- we need to be conscious of all those things that make noise in our lives, even if they don’t make a sound. Do our phones make noise in our lives? Do our televisions or radios? How can we give ourselves time without these things? The first move is to make a plan. Silence will not just happen unless we intentionally make it happen. We have to plan and be proactive in giving ourselves time and space for silence. Perhaps plan a time during the day and a place to be in silence, to allow yourself time to enter into contemplation of God. The ideal place for this would be in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but if this is not possible, still make a time and space for silence. Make it a unique place for silence. A little corner in a room in your house. A holy image there. No television anywhere near it. No radio. Just a place for holy silence.
Plan for time to be in silence in this place. And don’t get frustrated if you start with just small amounts of time. Start small and let it grow. It will grow, but if you start off by trying to be in silence for a lot longer than you are used to you will get frustrated and stop. But make sure you give yourself enough time to “struggle with the silence.”
And for the second question- giving yourself time for silence in the liturgy, especially if it isn’t built into the liturgy in the Mass you go to. Try to silence your heart, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. Perhaps as the priest is preparing the altar prepare yourself by simply saying a little prayer like this- “Lord, I have a lot of noise in my life. Help me set that noise aside and enter into your silence where you will give us the gift of your very self. My noise will be there at the end, but for now I put it aside.” I’m not saying it will automatically happen, but it will help you begin to enter into the silence and allow Jesus Christ to speak to you in the silence.
Struggle with the silence. Enter into that struggle because it is in that struggle, in the silence that God begins to form us as we contemplate him. But silence doesn’t come, we have to help bring it into our lives.